Arctic Litter Trail
Rocks and clouds, shrubs and moss. A minimalist landscape in endless variations. The arctic tundra has a melancholy quality, with autumnal colours in late summer.
A different kind of melancholy was on our minds when we booked our passage to Greenland. Melancholy, or rather anguish: about the fragility of its habitats, the melting icecap, the opening northwest passage, container ship pollution and small ports exploding into large commercial centres. The doom of progress pushed onward by a mentality of environmental disrespect.
A mentality that leaves its traces, on a small but disturbing scale, on the trail itself. Continue reading
Two Towns, and What Lies between Them
The somewhat grandly named Arctic Circle Trail parallels a tiny 165 km segment of the Arctic Circle. It runs between two Greenlandic towns not connected by any road, Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut. What lies between them is rock, swamp, shrubland, an uncountable number of picturesque lakes, pools and puddles, and a trail increasingly trodden by walkers from all over the world.
With snow covering the land for most of the year, an overland connection should be of limited use. Under a snowmobile’s caterpillar tracks the hiker’s 7-12 days journey shrinks to one of less than two hours. A car should be nearly useless, I would think, when all you can do is drive some 35 km to the ice cap in the north-east, and 10 km to the harbour in the south-west. Continue reading
I’ve known a man who hated all living things that bore a human imprint — from cultivated landscapes to house plants and pets. An unlivable state of mind, of course, and probably not quite sincere. But understandable: the craving for the wilderness, the feeling that being human is a curse.
We can’t escape from our humanity, and can’t escape from our own imprint upon nature, which in the grand perspective belongs to natural history too. Parks and pastures, cows and horses, cats and dogs can be beautiful, moving or charming, within bounds (excluding lap dogs, daffodils and feral pigeons). Despite the fact that their likableness is largely the product of our own making them to our liking.
Why do we (or most of us) like dogs? — Because they have been bred to live with us and milk our sentiments. It’s not their fault if large-eyed and furry they may look like a Disneyfied version of themselves. We should, I suppose, admire nature’s adaptability to us and try to improve our own adaptability to nature.
Stories about smart dogs following hikers are common enough. I’ll add my own to the lot, for sentimental reasons.
At Last, the Lighthouse
The intensely anticipated endpoint of the trail is a rock and a building on top of it. Directed towards the sea, the lighthouse keeps sailors at safe distance. Landward, it lures hikers into its boggy hinterland. First glimpsed from Sandwood Bay – a tiny speck of white in the hazy blue – it tells us: just 13 km to go!
As our guidebook says in one of its more evocative paragraphs:
“From the headland that juts imperiously over the broad ochre strand of Sandwood Bay, you may catch a first glimpse of the Cape Wrath lighthouse peeking over the low, dun hills of the horizon, beckoning you the final few miles towards the end of one of the world’s finest long-distance walks.”
Daffodilia Is Everywhere
A garden and a landscape are different things, obviously. A city garden is an enclave, an artificial miniature habitat where plants meet that never meet in nature. But outside the city gardens are often open to the landscape, or part of it.
One might hope that people who choose to buy a house in a spectacular setting – Scottish highlands, Dutch polders, wherever – have an eye for it. That looking out of their windows they enjoy the hills or moors or pastures, and shape their place in harmony with its surroundings.
But often this is not the case. It is above all the commercially averaged aesthetics of the garden centre that dictates garden design, a standardised vision of what a garden ought to be. Situated in the landscape, such a garden often looks like a petty act of protest.
And in spring it is the daffodil that dominates the scene.
One Trail, No Trail, Many Trails
“The Cape Wrath Trail is not an officially recognised UK National Trail. In fact, it is not really a trail at all, more a jigsaw of routes between Fort William and the most northwesterly point of mainland Britain, to be assembled according to your preferences.”
So tells us Iain Harper’s guidebook. On day 10 our pathless descent from Bealach Ban has been exhausting, the strong wind and boggy terrain granting us not a moment rest. The view towards Glen Torridon however is splendid, with menacing clouds compensating in picturesque grimness what the panorama lacks in clarity.
View towards Glen Torridon with Lochan Neimhe
Moving north we hoped the spring would progress ahead of us. But with late snowfall and night temperatures below zero, tree buds remained tightly closed and it looked like we had started too early, in late April.
The Cape Wrath Trail runs from Fort William some 350 km to the North-West tip of Scotland, the cape with the ominous name. Even if in Old Norse this just means “turning point”, it seems appropriately alluring to those who seek a bit of wilderness experience (and maybe a turning point, too).
350 km – and much of it is boot sucking bog. On the CWT every mile counts double and progress can be excruciatingly slow.